Saturday, August 11, 2007

Cusco. Day 3.

After spending the night in Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo), we rose early to catch the train back to Ollantaytambo.

Guille, Nico, and Benji waiting for the train to Ollantaytambo

Train stop in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes does not have a train station, instead the train just stops at a certain spot along Ave. Imperio de los Incas, and the conductors have people get on or off.

Luckier than the many who had to stand in line to buy tickets, we were able to get on right away and find our seats. Soon, we were back on our way back up the Urubamba Valley toward the highlands.

Urubamba Valley near Machu Picchu

Urubamba Valley near Ollantaytambo with Mt. Salcantay in the background

Ollantaytambo is a town about 75 kilometers from Cusco, at an altitude of about 2800 meters. It is located at the confluence of the Patachanca River with the Urubamba, which here takes the name Vilcanota.

The town itself, has been continuously inhabited since Inca times and the layout of the town center, and even the foundations of many buildings and the water channels that serve them are Inca.


Ollantaytambo was a tambo, or way station, protected by a fortress on the cliffs above the town. In late 17th century there was published a play about an Inca general who rebelled against his sovereign after being denied the love of the Inca's daughter, Cusi Qoyllur. In the fictional drama, the protagonist, Ollanta, is captured and held captive in Cusco, until the next Inca, Cusi Qoyllur's brother, frees him and places him in charge of the garrison near Yucay. Since then, due to the identification of the fictional hero with the locale, it gradually became known as Ollantaytambo (Ollanta's Tambo).

The fortress at Ollantaytambo

Inca period adobe construction below the fortress

Crowning the promontory on which the fortress is built, there stands an unfinished sun temple including a colossal wall made from six pink stone megaliths, each weighing some 20 tons. These stones once bore high-relief carvings of pumas and geometric designs, but these were smashed away by Spanish priests and only faint remains of them can yet be discerned.

This is some of the finest Inca megalithic stonework, and made all the more impressive by the fact that the quarry for this stone lies several hundred feet up a slope across the valley, at Kachiqhata. After being dragged across the valley floor, the stones were then pulled up a 1200 foot ramp to the temple site.

Some stones became "weary," and "refused" to move any further, were abandoned were they lay. Many are still there, including one in the town square.

"Weary" stone in Ollantaytambo's plaza

Ollantaytambo gained in historic significance as a result of the 1536 Battle of Ollataytambo. In that year, forces led by Hernando Pizarro and his native ally, Pascaq Inca, attacked the rebellious troops led by Manco Inca, who was attempting to re-establish Inca control over Peru. Manco arrayed his forces along the fortress' ramparts, resisting the Spanish onslaught. Outmaneuvering the Spanish, Manco's forces dealt the Spanish their first and only defeat at native hands in a major engagement.

The ramparts where Manco Inca arrayed his troops

After Ollantaytambo we were taken to a restaurant down the road for a buffet lunch. We could tell the kids were hungry because they ran to the buffet and ran back to their tables, and then ran back inside for more!

From there, we were driven to the last stop of our Cusco tours, the market town of Pisaq.

Pisaq is the site of Inca ruins located atop a mountain overlooking the modern town. The ruins are interesting, but the climb is brutal. I visited the site in 1981 and found it to be well-worth visiting. Of special interest were pre-Inca chambers that dot the cliffsides to the rear of the mountain. They appear to be burial chambers, but nary a one is intact, and I have read somewhere that there is no mention in the chronicles of them or the people who made them.

Our destination on this day, however, was the town plaza, dominated by its immense and venerable pisonay tree.

Pisaq is noted as a center for the sale of the area's handicrafts, specially weavings. The town hosts three weekly fairs, on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Alas, we arrived on Friday, but there was still plenty to chose from, as Juancho found out.

I purchased a couple of weavings as well, choosing a particularly handsome one to hang on the wall in the family room.

Looking around the town, Juancho and I discovered this bakery, which had the most creative cuy hutch I have ever seen.

I noticed also that, as in Quinua, the townspeople of the area decorated their roofs with clay figures.

What is insteresting, however, is that in this case, the figures are in a style associated with the town of Pucara, several hundred kilometers to the south, in Puno.

After shopping, we headed out of town at rush hour.

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